By Lara Ozaki
The banquets and hospitality industry on Guam has been steadily growing alongside the number of visitors to the island. With the opening of Dusit Thani Guam in June last year with 419 rooms and construction on Ken Corp.’s newest 340-room hotel, Tsubaki Tower, underway with a planned opening date in 2019, the number of hotel rooms and banquet halls continues to rise.
The industry is one of the largest in Guam’s economy, as tourism comprises 60%, according to reports by the Guam Visitors Bureau. Since 2014, GVB has been working on its Tourism 2020 initiative to grow the number of visitors to Guam to two million by year 2020. Along with foreign visitors, the local community takes full advantage of the various banquet services at Guam’s hotels for events year-round.
There are 26 hotels in the Guam Hotel & Restaurant Association, totaling 7,857 hotel rooms. Hotel room rates averaged $159, according to the GHRA report for 2015. This was a slight increase from the average rate of $149 in 2014. Occupancy rates averaged 75% in 2014 and 76% in 2015 among reported hotels.
Trends in accommodations
Guam’s diverse group of visitors stays fairly constant in its needs, though there has been increased demand for connectivity and family-friendly activities and accommodations. The island’s hotels are continuously following trends to address these demands in a timely manner.
Improvements in technology continue to increase customer demand for high-speed Wi-Fi
and portability, Vincent D. “Ben” Cruz, general manager of Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort, says.
Complimentary Wi-Fi service was launched for all rooms last year at the Hyatt Regency Guam, says Luis Villagomez, marketing communications manager. “In this day and age when technology and connectivity are so important, we felt we needed to respond with providing this as a standard service,” he says.
The Hilton Guam Resort & Spa is upgrading and redesigning its promotion website to provide guests with the most updated information regarding events and promotions. The plan includes a cake ordering page for the recently renovated Caffé Cino to enable guests to order cakes online, says Carla Vy, marketing communications supervisor of Hilton Guam Resort & Spa.
As many of Guam’s visitors come with children, hotels are catering more to families with children.
The Lotte Hotel Guam launched a special kid-friendly program in April including amenities
for infants and toddlers. The Royal Orchid Guam has a children’s playroom located beside its ballroom. Hotel Nikko Guam also features a kid’s room and playground as part of its ongoing renovation of its premier suites and rooms.
Camp Hyatt kid’s club is one of the most popular services at Hyatt Regency Guam, Villagomez says. The program is designed for young campers from 4 to 14 years old, offering various activities in educational and recreational facilities. Seasonal Camp Hyatt sessions are also offered during school breaks that are popular with local children.
Pools, spas and gyms continue to be popular standard features of Guam hotels. The Guam Reef & Olive Spa Resort is planning a June opening of its first gym for staying customers.
Outdoor dining continues to be very popular in Guam, and hotel properties in particular
have prime opportunities for tourists and local residents to take advantage of the island weather and sunsets.
“Visitors choose a resort hotel because of things to enjoy; they don’t want what the city hotels usually offer as indoor venues. Outside venues will put you into casual relaxing Guam mode right away,” says Masaaki Kawanabe, general manager of Hotel Nikko Guam.
The Hotel Nikko Guam’s popular outdoor dining venue features a large garden space, a view of the sunset over Gun Beach, a barbeque buffet, Chamorro fire dances, live music and fireworks. Outdoor buffets with live shows are great entertainment and dining packages for visitors, and other hotels have similar offerings, such as the Breezes Sunset Barbecue at the Hyatt Regency Guam.
The Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort also newly opened its Bayside Barbeque Stage in
February, with nightly dinner shows serving Chamorro-style barbeque. Guests can also enjoy an authentic Chamorro dance and chant show.
On the other hand, Toshi Doi, president and general manager of LeoPalace Guam Corp., which does business as LeoPalace Resort Guam, has noticed the shift of customers’ desire to support local farmers in line with the farm-to-table movement as well as an increasing appetite for Italian cuisine.
“To meet these demands, we are proud to announce that we are preparing to open a new Italian restaurant at our resort, Eataliano — a casual dining experience featuring our farm fresh ingredients, as well as homemade pastas and pizzas,” he says.
LeoPalace uses produce grown on its property wherever possible in its dining facilities.
“We continue to see a trend towards healthy and fresh in food and beverage,” Villagomez says. The Hyatt Regency Guam has begun to include healthy options in The Deli in addition to its signature desserts and pastries, to offer more options. The Al Dente Antipasto buffet will also include new healthy items, as well as fresh pasta made with all natural ingredients with the new pasta machine.
Many of the larger hotels on Guam accommodate several hundred events a year, ranging from wedding receptions and parties to business conferences and workshops.
GHRA member hotels house a range of two to 15 banquet halls each, with the Hyatt Regency Guam topping the list with 15 venues. Of the thousands of events hosted every year, the interviewed hotels averaged around 30% wedding receptions, 20% business conferences and 50% other parties. Local church functions and corporate trainings are also hosted in smaller venues.
Themed events are also popular and expert teams of event planners work closely with customers to meet various requirements. Tes Reyes-Burrier, sales and marketing manager of Lotte Hotel Guam, says that the Lotte Hotel is planning on expanding its banquet services by popular demand from customers, such as providing plated services for larger banquets and wedding receptions and utilizing poolside and beachside cabanas. Lotte aims to provide a more sophisticated type of service to accommodate the growing banquet market, she says.
For business meetings and conferences, high-tech equipment availability is more in demand, such as lighting effects, sound systems, presentation screens, larger stages and dance floors. Doi says that he would like to focus more on meetings and conferences in addition to social events and is in the process of upgrading LeoPalace’s ballrooms with improved audiovisual equipment.
Guam as a destination
“We have to continue to find new ways to make Guam more appealing to our visitors because the competition is growing. Proximity and U.S. soil is no longer enough. We need to persist in promoting our unique culture and maintaining our island’s public areas and facilities,” Cruz says.
Guam has been perceived as a cheaper, quick vacation destination by neighboring Asian
countries. Tour companies, together with GVB, have been working to change the image to increase lengths of stay. Rebranding of Guam as a destination is not easy, and members of the hospitality industry continue to seek infrastructure improvements to further attract tourists.
“For Guam to be a world-class destination, we still need to work on improving infrastructure, such as fixing the potholes and better instructional signage. I often run in the Tumon area and always notice frustrated tourists waiting for the cross road traffic signal to turn green without knowing they have to press the ‘beg buttons’ or else it will never turn green,” says Sunard Li, president of Sentry Hospitality Corp., which owns Wyndham Garden Guam and Days Inn Guam.
Long lines for arriving tourists at the airport immigration have also continued to be a setback. “This makes Guam unattractive. It gives a bad first impression — that you are not welcome because it would take you more than one hour to get through after a short few hours flight from home,” Kawanabe says. He says he hopes that the April 4 reopening of lines for Electronic System for Travel Authorization by U.S. Department of Homeland Security will lead to a faster immigration process. The ESTA is available to tourists from Visa Waiver Program countries over the internet in a mere five minutes of processing and a $14 fee, with one year of validity. Especially for repeat visitors, not only to Guam but to the United States, obtaining ESTA may reduce waiting times significantly. The airport had a separate ESTA line previously that closed in 2014 due to low usage.
Becoming a high-end destination
One of the core objectives of GVB’s Tourism 2020 is to improve quality and yield; another is to add high-end hotel rooms. For hotels, this means not only increasing the number of rooms but providing better quality services.
“If our goal is to label Guam as a ‘high-end’ destination, we must provide a high level of
service and quality and ensure that we price our rooms where we can achieve [average daily rate] growth and [revenue per available room] year after year,” Cruz says.
Yasuhiro Kotera, general manager of Guam Reef & Olive Spa Resort, says, “Hotels need to create a valuable service and high quality of service to match the money [that] customers pay. That is the current customers’ common highest demand.”
Li regularly reads visitor hotel reviews on TripAdvisor and agrees, “The most common pitfalls for hotels is charging a high price and not delivering the expected high-quality service.”
It may be more of an investment to build higher end hotels in the future. Kotera says that with the minimum wage increases, it will be more difficult for smaller, lower priced hotels to remain competitive, as the need to increase room rates arise. With increases in room rates, the hotels will not be as attractive as they will no longer be considered cheap hotels. As a result of this, Kotera says he believes middle- and high-class hotels will lead the market.
LeoPalace Guam Resort recognizes the growing demand for higher quality hotel accommodations and is planning on revamping the Hotel Belvedere to create a more luxury hotel at LeoPalace. It will feature an executive floor to include an executive lounge on the fifth floor.
Hotel Nikko Guam has experienced success with its premier suites and rooms, where guests can enjoy better ocean views in relaxing rooms and unique services at the Premier Lounge. Kawanabe says, “With this popular demand and success, we are expanding premier suites and rooms by starting the renovation of our three highest floors of the hotel.” The 94 rooms on the 12th to 15th floors are expected to be complete in July. By completion of all the renovations, all the suites in the hotel will be converted into premier suites along with more than half of the total rooms.
The Royal Orchid Guam is also trying to promote its executive rooms, Sandrea Perez, sales and marketing coordinator, says. Although its best-selling rooms are located on the third to sixth floors, in order to increase sales for the executive rooms on the seventh, the hotel has launched a “happy hour” promotion at the executive lounge. The service includes free beer, champagne and snacks between 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m. daily for guests on the floor.
With the growth of the industry come challenges in staffing. One major challenge is finding qualified individuals for key positions who have previous hotel experience and are able to teach the associates the special skills needed to work at a luxury hotel, Doi says. This is especially true for mid- to upper management positions in the competitive landscape.
In addition, “The pool of prospective employees is getting smaller with the openings of new businesses and partly because many students may not seek a career in hospitality or move abroad to continue their education and do not return after having experienced life elsewhere,” Cruz says.
With the opening and renovations of other hotels, the competition is steep, Reyes-Burrier says. The Lotte Hotel Guam sends staff to train in South Korea to experience a different type of setting, as well as to ensure upholding of the Lotte global brand.
Additionally, some hotels have struggled with the increases in minimum wage. Kotera says that to increase employee salary and benefits with business growth has been a challenge, and to address the issue, the Guam Reef & Olive Spa Resort strives to offer high level training for its employees to foster quality staff.
Hotels that do not seek prior experience for their staff have had success in finding quality staff locally. “We have found many great youngsters from Guam High School Tourism Academy program and [Guam Community College]. We want to train them for a career and not a job,” Li says.
Changes in the tourism landscape
The initiatives of GVB’s Tourism 2020 to welcome two million visitors to Guam include improving quality, diversifying arrivals, adding high-end hotel rooms and extending lengths of stay.
“GVB has done a great job as caretakers for our tourism industry. Guam needs to continue setting high standards as there are many island destination competitors out there,” Li says.
Working alongside GVB’s efforts to expand tourism, Guam’s banquets and hospitality industry can also be expected to expand further.
“With the Korean market continuing to expand and growing interest from China, both markets will have a tremendous impact on Guam’s visitor industry. The Japan market continues to decline, but we are confident it will recover,” Cruz says. Although historically Guam’s economy has relied heavily on Japanese tourism, there may be some shifts in tourist ratios.
LeoPalace Resort has experienced growth in the Korean market as well as the military market. Doi says that their business helps fund improvements to the resort’s services and facilities.
“Changes are constantly happening in the competitive industry of hospitality. As far as industry landscape, we can expect further expansion,” Perez says.